The Adventures of American Diplomat Walter William Orebaugh in Italy 1942-1944, Part I

Today’s post is written by Dr. Greg Bradsher, Senior Archivist at the National Archives at College Park

Late in the morning of November 5, 1942, Walter William Orebaugh, American Consul General at Nice, France, received a telephone call from Pinkney Tuck, American Chargé d’affaires at the American Embassy at Vichy, who informed him that the Department of State had instructed that he should go to Monaco immediately and open a consulate. Orebaugh, born in Wichita, Kansas on March 19, 1910, graduated from Wichita Municipal University, in 1931; and was appointed to the foreign service on December 17, 1931. He served at Montreal, Wellington, Trieste, Venice, and again at Trieste. He became vice consul at Nice on March 8, 1941, and consul there on June 23, 1942.

After talking with Tuck, Orebaugh immediately set about turning the Nice office over to the Vice-Consul and in the afternoon of November 5, Orebaugh drove the 12 miles to Monaco to see Prince Louis to inform him of the American Government’s decision to open the Consulate and to obtain his formal consent to its establishment.  On November 6, about noon, the American flag was hoisted at the corner of the north wing of the Hotel Metropole where two rooms had been engaged temporarily to serve as the American Consulate. The first in history to be established in the Principality, was thus informally opened for public business.

Orebaugh’s tenure in Monaco would be short-lived.  On November 11, Italian military forces occupied the Principality.  Six days later the Italians arrested Orebaugh and two of his clerks – Miss Amy Houlden (a British subject), and American Mrs. Anne Charrier, and on November 30, they were sent to Italy for internment.  They were first interned at Gubbio on December 2.  The first day after their arrival Orebaugh addressed a letter to the Swiss Legation in Rome appealing for its assistance. At the same time he wrote a postcard under a fictitious name to an old friend of his who lived in Trieste. Orebaugh so worded this postcard that when received, he would understood that its author could only be Orebaugh.  This friend was Manfred Metzger.  Metzger was an Austrian, having been born in Trieste of Austrian parents, but since the incorporation of Austria into the German Reich, technically a German national. Orebaugh knew him several years before he left Trieste where he was stationed from 1937 to 1941 as Vice-Consul. Orebaugh always found him a sympathizer with the Allied cause and friendly to Americans and definitely pro-democratic in his thinking. Metzger visited the United States in 1938 on his honeymoon and returned to Trieste, with an American car, radio-phonograph, etc. He was married to an Italian girl and had one child. From his father he inherited wealth and part ownership in Robert Metzger & Co., a Trieste firm engaged in the transportation of wine in railroad tank cars.  Orebaugh believed that he had firms in Switzerland, France, Austria, and Italy.  He described him primarily as a man with a mind for business and with little interest in politics.

It did not greatly surprise Orebaugh, when about ten days later he was aroused at 6am by a knock at the door and by the entry of a man who, after mumbling a few words to the effect that he was sent by Metzger of Trieste and that his wife had been informed of his whereabouts, departed abruptly leaving in Orebaugh’s hand the sum of 5,000 lire. This allowed them to make certain purchases of the things they needed, and even managed to buy a turkey for their Christmas dinner.

On March 21 or 22, 1943, Orebaugh and his clerks were transferred to better living conditions in Perugia. Life there was relatively peaceful and uneventful until Orebaugh and his colleagues learned on July 10 that the Allied attack on Sicily had begun.  As the invasion of Sicily progressed favorably the impact of the war on Central Italy was becoming increasingly more evident. Hardly a day passed that some point nearby was not bombed.  Concerned about his group’s safety in the war zone, and with the possibility of the German Army eventually taking them prisoner, Orebaugh attempted in late July to get the Swiss and Italian authorities to allow him and the clerks to be transferred to Rome.  There, he believed they would be safer near the Swiss Legation.  This attempt was unsuccessful.

On September 10, two days after the Armistice between the Allies and the Italian Government, Orebaugh had an interview with the Italian general in command of the military zone of Perugia and learned from him that the few reserve troops he had at his disposition were poorly armed and entirely incapable of putting up any resistance should the Germans attempt to occupy the city. That evening, after hearing a number of disquieting rumors and upon learning that the Germans were only a few miles away, Orebaugh decided to escape.  He had at this time contemplated either trying to get to the Allied lines or failing in this, going into hiding in a house in Perugia.  The former seemed impossible, so the latter option was the only viable alternative.  Previously, Ann Charrier had arranged with one of the maids, Vittoria Vechiet, to go to the home of her sister (Mrs. Marguerite Bonucci, 3 Via Aquila, Perugia) to hide away for a few days and when one of the young girls of this family came to the hotel saying that the two clerks had come to her home after having narrowly escaped being hit by bullets during a street skirmish which had occurred while they were out walking that evening, Orebaugh concluded to join them at once. In his room, he hastily gathered together a few belongings and after making arrangements with a trustworthy employee of the hotel that his bags should follow him the next day, Orebaugh left the hotel for the hideout.

The hiding place was, Orebaugh found, in the old quarter of the city on the third floor of an ancient dwelling. There he found clerks Houlden and Charrier awaiting him. They related the details of the shooting episode. They discussed their situation and Orebaugh convinced them that they were in no immediate danger and that they should return to the hotel for that night at least in order to have time to decide whether they wished to go into hiding with him. He reminded them that the decision they would make was a serious one and that if they remained in the hotel he feared they might eventually be interned by the Germans. They thereupon left. Orebaugh was not surprised to see them return the following morning.  They had concluded to see it through with him.

Marguerite Bonucci, in whose home they hid, did everything in her power to make their stay as pleasant as possible. After the first three weeks their ration books were no longer valid, and from that time until January 1944 it was a constant struggle for her to provide them with enough to eat. Their diet lacked particularly fresh fruits, meat, and dairy products. In the morning they had a large cup of coffee flavored with roasted barley and two dry pieces of bread. Lunch usually consisted of soup, bread and a vegetable. In the evening there was often macaroni or some other pasta, seasoned meagerly with tomato concentrate or meat broth. Rarely did they have anything sweet to eat. Every day Mrs. Bonucci would go into the country for milk and other foodstuffs, often bicycling as far as twenty or thirty miles in all kinds of weather in her search for a little flour or meat.  She had, when taking them in, been under the impression that their stay would be a matter of only a week or ten days, but as time passed she accepted the situation philosophically, notwithstanding the fact that in so doing she was risking severe punishment or even death.

Fortunately Oresbuagh’s good friend, Metzger had not forgotten them. Since the time he sent his clerk to bring them money at Gubbio when they first arrived in Italy, he had repeatedly sent them money, foodstuffs and articles of clothing.  The funds were distributed to his two clerks in accordance with their needs. Medicine and clothing were purchased, and life was made supportable. When Metzger learned that they were no longer in the Hotel Brufani he either sent or brought himself foodstuffs to where they were hiding. When December came and there seemed no hope of an Allied advance during the winter months, Orebaugh discussed the problem with him and asked if he would endeavor to procure all the various documents, passes, false identity cards, etc., needed for the three of them to journey from Perugia to Rome. Metzger agreed to do his best and left, promising to return within a period of two weeks.

Perugia was by this time overrun with Germans, and the possibility of being discovered became greater daily. Houses were being requisitioned for military purposes, and searches being conducted to catch Italian youths who had failed to present themselves for compulsory military service. These considerations and the fact that it was physically impossible for Mrs. Bonucci to find sufficient food for them drove Orebaugh to solicit Metzger’s assistance in getting them to Rome. Fearing, however, that the request he had given him would prove impossible to fulfill, Orebaugh began to look around for an alternative solution.

Hearing about this time that there were a number of patriots (Partisans) and British and American escaped prisoners of war in a mountainous district to the northeast of Pergugia, Orebaugh made inquiries and was finally successful in establishing contact with one of their leaders. He was Bonuccio Bonucci (no relation to their hostess), a prominent anti-Fascist and a large lease-holder of farms, who had begun to organize a patriot group in the region to the North of Umbertide. Orebaugh saw Mr. Bonucci several times to discuss plans relating to the patriot group and arrangements for Orebaugh to leave Perugia and to take up residence in a peasant’s house located within two hours’ walking distance from San Faustino, the country residence of Mr. Bonucci in the Umbertide region.

With arrangements made for Orebaugh to go to Bonucci’s country headquarters, at 615am on January 20, 1944, Orebaugh left his hiding place in Perugia, walked to the railway station, where he boarded a train for Ponte San Giovanni. One of Bonucci’s peasants came along to guide the way. Orebaugh was wearing inconspicuous civilian clothes and had grown a beard which he had been nursing for several months. Before reaching Ponte San Giovanni they descended from the train and walked a short distance, the bridge at that point having been demolished by bombardment.  After waiting for about three-quarters of an hour they caught the Umbertide train which took them as far as Monte Corona where they transferred to a wood-burning local. They traveled on this latter train to Campo Reggiano, which was the nearest railway point to Bonucci’s country villa, which was situated up in the mountains some seven miles away. During the latter part of this journey, Orebaugh shared his seat with two German officers who engaged him in conversation in broken Italian.  Leaving the station at Campo Reggiano and with the peasant following him at a discreet distance, Orebaugh began climbing up into the hills. After they had gone a short distance he joined Orebaugh saying that they were now in a safe region and that it made no difference if they were seen together. An hour and a half later they arrived at the Parish of San Faustino, and the villa of which Mr. Bonucci leased as his country residence. There Orebaugh stayed two days as his guest. Orebaugh soon realized that Bonucci had in recent months accomplished a great deal and that he already had at his disposal a corps of Italian officers. Orebaugh met personally a number of them, including several who were engaged in active field work.  Orebaugh soon realized that there was much to be done in locating and acquiring supplies or arms and ammunition and in recruiting and consolidating into one organization the various small resistance groups which were scattered about the region.  While at the villa, Orebaugh and Bonucci perfected plans for the organization and Orebaugh also wrote out a message for transmission through a clandestine radio station in Florence to the Allied military authorities, recommending that help be extended to the San Faustino patriot group.

After nightfall on January 22, Orebaugh set out, accompanied by a peasant, to the farmer’s house where he was to live. For four hours they walked up and down hills, scrambled over rocks and leaped streams. They purposely traveled by little used trails to avoid meeting people, it being Bonucci’s wish that Orebaugh’s whereabouts should be known only to himself.  At 11pm they arrived at their destination and Orebaugh was made welcome by Ruggero, the farmer. He was to stay at this lodging off and on for more than two months.

For reasons of security they had decided it would be best for Orebaugh not to be seen by the neighbors, and it was accordingly necessary for him several times each day to disappear into the bedroom whenever neighbors came to visit. The weather being exceedingly cold in the mountains, these periods of hiding in the cold bedroom were exceedingly unpleasant. Sometimes after nightfall to keep from freezing Orebaugh would climb out the window by means of a ladder and go for walks.

In the evening of January 24 or 25 an Italian officer associated with their movement and the peasant who had accompanied Orebaugh to his hiding place came to inform him that Metzger had at last arrived in Perugia with two or three cars and a truck and with all the necessary documents and passes for their journey to Rome, but that he had been unable to obtain a permit for Orebaugh to go into the Vatican.  Orebaugh had by this time, however, become deeply interested in the patriot movement and had already made arrangements for sending a message to the Allied command behind the lines. He decided, therefore not to undertake the journey to Rome but to encourage the two clerks who were still at the hiding place in Perugia to do so.  Metzger, who had gone to great pains and expense to obtain the documents for their journey, was naturally disappointed at his decision but did not hesitate to take the two clerks to Rome as arranged. He also, in response to a letter which Orebaugh had left in Perugia before his departure, contributed the sum of 100,000 lire to their patriot movement.

On the morning of January 25, two Italian special service officers arrived at his residence and discussed the patriotic movement in that area with Orebaugh. He wrote a message which they promised to deliver to the Allied authorities. This message recommended that ammunition and similar supplies be dropped in the San Faustino area at the earliest possible date.

At sundown on January 27, Bonucci’s peasant came to escort Orebaugh to San Faustino where a meeting of Italian, American, and British officers associated with the San Faustino movement was to take place that evening.  Arriving there after an hour and a half of slogging through deep snow, Orebaugh met and had dinner with an Italian Colonel Mario Guerrizzi, Captains Bico Pucci and Stelio Pierangel, and Bonucci. During dinner a discussion took place relative to the various problems facing their movement, and they were joined after the conclusion of their meal by four British and one American officers. They were Captain R.D.G. Ramsey, Royal Tank Regiment; Capt. J. C. Bennett, M.C., Royal Army Service Corps; Captain C. J. Fitzgerald, Reconnaissance Corps, attached to No. 20 British Military Mission; 1st Lt. Joseph Withers, U.S. Air Corps; and, Lt. D. P. Williams, Royal Tank Regiment.  Orebaugh read aloud to them the text of a message he had drafted describing the strength of the patriot forces at their disposition, their need for supplies of arms and ammunition, and the potentialities of guerrilla warfare in the district. In addition the message specified in detail where such supplies could be dropped safely by plane and proposed a recognition signal. This message after being unanimously approved by the officers present was dispatched to Florence and transmitted to the Allied Military Command by the medium of a clandestine radio station in that city. Two days previously Orebaugh had handed an abbreviated message embodying similar information to two Italian Special Service officers who were going south to pass through the lines. Orebaugh was confident, therefore, that between the two messages news of their organization and its needs would shortly reach the proper Allied agency. Before the meeting adjourned they had reached general agreement not only on policy matters but also as regards the nature of the operations to be undertaken as soon as sufficient arms had been obtained. At this point the organization had at its disposal a quantity of arms and ammunition, part of which had been buried underground at a spot known only to Bonucci and Colonel Guerrizzi. The buried arms consisted roughly of 180 rifles, a few light machine guns, 1 or 2 heavy machine guns, 2 or 3 mortars, and a large amount of ammunition.  The non-partisan character of the organization had been affirmed, and it had been decided to redouble their efforts to maintain liaison with other resistance groups. Orebaugh returned that night to his lodgings well pleased with what had been accomplished. 

During the first week of February Orebaugh received indirectly a message from Metzger stating that clerks Houlden and Charrier, who remained hidden in a house in Perugia, had arrived safely in Rome in late January. This was a great relief to him as he was now freed from responsibility for their security and well-being.

On February 7, Orebaugh received a message from Bonucci reporting that a favorable radio message had been received from the Allied authorities and that a dropping of arms was to be expected within a short time.

In the afternoon of February 16 or 17 a party of 40 to 70 Fascists and Germans broke into Bonucci’s villa at San Faustino and carried away all the wheat, flour, sausage, meats, wine and other provisions they found on the premises. They ransacked everything in their search for incriminating evidence but found nothing showing his affiliation with the patriot movement. After breaking much of the furniture, they departed.  It so happened that Orebaugh was on his way to San Faustino to see Bonucci at the time the raid was being carried out not knowing that he was not there. Fortunately, Orebaugh was warned before reaching it by a peasant, and thus avoided apprehension.

The following day Bonucci, having heard that the Germans and Fascists had paid his country home a visit in his absence and desiring to ascertain the extent of the damage done, went to San Faustino from Perugia. He had been there only a short time when four Fascists dressed in civilian clothes with machine guns hidden under their coats presented themselves at the front door and asked to see the head of the house. Unsuspectingly, Bonucci went to the door and was immediately taken prisoner, together with two young lads from Umbertide. Quickly he was taken away. After being held in hands of Questora in Perugia for several days, he was conducted to the prison in the same city.  Shortly after, Orebaugh learned that Bonucci had been imprisoned in Perugia and that he had undergone several severe beatings, but that he had been adamant in his refusal to divulge any information. 

On the same day of Bonucci’s arrest, Colonel Guerrizzi, who was in Perugia, learned that the police were likewise looking for him. Not daring to return to his home, he fled and eventually went into hiding near Florence. His wife and son were arrested that day, and he, presumably thinking that their lives would be endangered should he continue to work with the patriots, disappeared. All their efforts to get in touch with him thereafter proved unsuccessful.

It was subsequently learned that the arrest of Bonucci, and the efforts of the Fascists and Germans to apprehend the other officers of the patriot band, was the result of testimony of one Paciotti, an Italian who had previously been associated with the Filo-Communistic band operating in the region of Legubbio, and who had earlier visited San Faustino. An unknown monetary sum was reputed to have been given to Paciotti, who made a complete report to the enemy of everything he knew concerning the San Faustino Organization and its principal members.   

Colonel Guerrizzi’s departure following Bonucci’s arrest left the organization without a real leader, and additionally these two alone knew where the principal deposit of arms and ammunition, which had been buried underground several months previously, was hidden. Without these arms Orebaugh knew they could only place about 180 men in the field, and many of these were poorly equipped. Orebaugh, as well as the other officers, made every effort to locate this cache and even threatened death to two peasants whom they suspected of knowing the hiding place. All their efforts were in vain. The second half of the month of February and the first part of March, which they had hoped would see the carrying out of several important operations, was therefore largely lost in futile search and in readjusting themselves to the new situation. It was inevitable under the circumstances that for several weeks little could be accomplished until other arms and equipment were collected. Nevertheless, despite the fact that they knew it would be difficult with the limited resources at their disposal, no one thought of quitting. Even the knowledge that the Fascists and Germans knew the names of all their officers and their strength in arms did not frighten them. They still had 100 percent support of the peasants, a mountainous district ideally suited to guerrilla warfare, and the expectation that the Allies would send arms and supplies within a reasonable length of time.

Meanwhile, the State Department was beginning to obtain information about Orebaugh’s situation.  In late January or early February, Orebaugh was able to get word to the American Legation in Bern, Switzerland, that he was safe and with a band of partisans.  On February 19, the Legation cabled the State Department that unconfirmed information received indicated Orebaugh was with a group of approximately 1800 Partisans about 50 miles from Rome.  Five days later James Hugh Keeley, Jr. Chief Special War Problems Division, wrote Assistant Secretary Adolf A. Berle’s office and four other offices within the State Department, that the State Department was not informed exactly of Orebaugh’s whereabouts although he appeared to be with various anti-Axis Italians and escaped prisoners of war in the area immediately north of Rome and appeared to plan to come to Rome shortly and to remain in what the American representative at the Vatican City, Harold Tittmann considered a reasonably safe hiding place outside the limits of the Vatican City. Keeley noted that the two clerks who were with Orebaugh had reached the Vatican City safely on February 3.

Just four days later Keeley wrote the same offices as he had previously that Orebaugh was in Italy with certain irregular military groups hiding from the German authorities.  He indicated that information available regarding Orebaugh was supplemented by another telegram from Bern, reporting that he intended to remain with the irregulars in the hills north of Rome considering that he was safer there than he would be at Rome. He had, however, requested instructions from the Legation at Bern; the Legation being at a loss to advise him, had requested the Department’s consideration of this problem and its instructions.  Keeley asked for opinions and noted the need of having instructions for Orebaugh reach Bern before the courier to carry them left that city made this matter rather urgent.  On March 4, the State Department cabled Bern, concurring with its proposal to tell Orebaugh, if possible, to act according to his own judgment and as circumstance predicated. 

Towards the beginning of March the patriot organization was in a position to undertake small sorties and gradually the military organization had improved to the extent where operations of grater scope could be undertaken. Under the leadership of Captain Pierangel, a number of ambushes against German truck convoys had been carried out successfully and at the time of Orebaugh’s departure from this region, the group had become increasingly active. It was, however, badly in need of arms and ammunition.

After the raid on San Faustino they felt it was inadvisable to make their headquarters in that region which was too easily reached by main roads on three sides. Hence, it was decided to keep their forces in a rugged mountainous district which could easily be defended. Throughout this period Orebaugh kept up the morale and kept alive the organization, and personally directed many of the activities of the organization, there being no one else to assume this role. Among those who were most active in assisting him were Lt. Mario Bonfiglio of Bologna, Lt. Mario Soldatini of Rome, Lt. Vittorio Biggiotti of Perugia, and Guiseppe Bonucci, younger brother of Mr. Bonucci, of Perguia. During the latter part of March and the first few days of April, the operations of the band, besides the usual food procurement sorties, included an attack on a Fascist barracks near Scheggia, a raid against a warehouse in the Cagli district where 1,000 blankets were seized and carried away, and several ambushes of German truck convoys.

Relatively close to the San Faustino patriot band, another band of patriots, popularly known as the band of Cantiano, was making its presence felt.  It had already fought several successful actions with the enemy.  Orebaugh made it a point to maintain constant liaison with it, since he felt that by combining forces for all major undertakings their cause would thereby insure itself against a disastrous reversal. On March 24 or 25 two detachments of the Cantiano band numbering 112-150 men fought a pitched battle near Pianello with a force of 400 German SS troops and 400 Fascists. The engagement began at about 730am. For eight hours the fighting continued. The Fascists and Germans were much the better armed, all of them having sub-machine guns as well as pistols and grenades. The patriots were armed with rifles, grenades, and a few automatic rifles. They did, however, possess two working heavy machine guns, and these proved extremely deadly. A total of between 150 and 180 Germans and Fascists were killed that day while the patriots’ losses were only one killed and two wounded. When the leader of the patriots gave the order to withdraw, almost simultaneously the Fascists and Germans did likewise. Had the patriotic ammunition supply not been practically exhausted, it might have been possible to inflict much heavier losses on the enemy. The order to withdraw had hardly been executed when the patriots’ reinforcements arrived, including the best armed elements in the San Faustino organization.  This engagement, although a decisive victory for the patriots, left them in an unfortunate position. They now had very little ammunition left and unless Allied supplies arrived soon, a more or less temporary disbandment would be necessary.

On March 27 Orebaugh left his peasant home and went up into the area where the San Faustino forces were quartered.  He personally checked the accuracy of the reports on German-Fascist losses near Pianello, and knew they were not exaggerated.  On March 27 and 28 Orebaugh conferred with the leaders of both bands (Italian Army Capt. Pierangel having by this time assumed command of the San Faustino group) and no message having been received from the Allied military authorities, it was agreed that the interests of all concerned might be best served were Orebaugh to attempt to go behind the lines and press for the sending of immediate help. Accordingly, Orebaugh made arrangements to leave having heard that some kind of organization for the repatriation for Allied prisoners of war was functioning in the Tenna Valley, some 100 travel miles to the south. Word to this effect had reached him indirectly through a Fred Foster, formerly manager of the Shell Oil Company in Italy, who was interned at Cagli with his wife. He had heard of the repatriation possibility through an “A” Force [an allied agency assisting escaped prisoners of war and evaders] agent by the name of Cagnazzo. Three of the American and British officers of the San Faustino organization had already left for this destination, but Captain Ramsay, the ranking British officer, consented to remain behind to take charge of eventual dropping of supplies by plane and to represent Anglo-American interests generally.

By this time, the Office of Strategic Services (OSS) was in contact with Orebaugh.  In February or early March the OSS learned of Orebaugh’s activities and its Algiers office cabled Washington on March 12, that Orebaugh advised that he was well and wished to have authority to draw consular drafts.  Algiers added that he was engaged in the organization of partisans and requested that Washington respond as quickly as possible. The OSS contacted the State Department about the Orebaugh situation and gave it a copy of the cable regarding him.  The OSS requested that it be instructed as to a proper reply to the cable should the State Department wish to take action on the Orebaugh situation.

Fletcher Warren, executive assistant to  the Assistant Secretary of State and also Assistant Chief Division of Foreign Activity Correlation, the day after the State Department contact with the OSS, wrote Assistant Secretary Berle, that “I wish that there were something we could do to protect Orebaugh’s status as a Foreign Service Officer, as far as the Germans are concerned. This seems to be a case in which anything that we do is almost certain to be wrong. We must be careful not to give away his whereabouts to the Germans, and equally as careful not to compromise the Italian partisans who have befriended Orebaugh.”  Warren wrote that it seemed that the Department might get word to the Germans that it was short one Foreign Service Officer, formerly in Italy, and that should he come into the hands of the German military the United States Government would expect him to be treated as a diplomatic officer and interned as one of the ten officials that the German Government was already obligated to cover by safe conduct for return to the United States.  Warren thought that the State Department could send such a notice to the Germans as would not reveal Orebaugh’s whereabouts and yet might render him some protection in case he is picked up by the Germans.

Kenneth Carl Krentz of the Division of Foreign Service Administration on March 20. wrote several State Department offices regarding Warren’s memo of March 15, to Berle recommending consideration of steps to notify the German Government of Orebaugh’s status as a Foreign Service Officer.  Krentz noted that since the memo was written, information had been received which very much complicated this situation. He reported that Orebaugh was in contact with the OSS branch at Algiers, presumably through an OSS agent operating in Italy, and that an OSS telegram received in the State Department on March 15, asked that Orebaugh be authorized to draw consular drafts. The OSS telegram stated “He is engaged in the organization of partisans.” Information obtained informally from the OSS, Krentz wrote, indicated that he wished to draw drafts to finance the guerilla activities.  Krentz observed that when the Department sent its message on February 4, to Bern authorizing the Legation to inform Orebaugh that he should act according to his own judgment and as circumstances predicate, the assumption was that Orebaugh was with the partisans simply because he felt safer with the group in the mountains than in trying to reach Rome and Vatican City. Krentz indicated that Bern’s message of February 25, stated that Orebaugh requested instructions whether he should remain with Partisans or endeavor to proceed to Rome, not being sure that prospects of reaching Rome were favorable.   Krentz wrote that it appeared Orebaugh wanted instructions as to whether to engage in guerilla activities or whether to desist and seek safety.

If this was the case, as it now appeared to be, it seemed to Krentz that any steps taken then to notify the German Government of Orebaugh’s status would not only be ineffective but might endanger his life. If such notification were to be made to the Germans now, Krentz observed, it would seem that the corollary must be that the State Department send Orebaugh prompt instructions to cease all activities and report to the nearest German authorities. He added that if Orebaugh had gone as far as they assumed, his talents may be of much more use to us in continuing his organizing of an apparently fairly large partisan band which might be of incalculable value to future military operations in Italy.  Continuing, Krentz wrote that having, as they assumed, definitely crossed the line from the proper activities of a Foreign Service Officer to those of a guerrilla it seemed that Orebaugh could look forward, if captured, only to the treatment given under international law to those engaged in such activities.  Although the State Department should prepare at once to intervene as best it can on Orebaugh’s behalf if he was captured by the Germans, Krentz wrote, it would seem that it should warn Orebaugh, probably through OSS channels, that the Department may not be able to protect him if he continued in his present activities, leaving to him the decision as to whether he would carry on or seek safety in the Vatican or elsewhere.

Krentz pointed out that Horace Andrews (OSS) stated that the OSS was trying to find out through Algiers the exact conditions under which Orebaugh was operating and to evaluate the strategic value of the partisan band, and that Andrews estimated that OSS should be able to obtain this information within a week and would be able to give the State Department its recommendation from the strategic point of view. Krentz believed that If Orebaugh decided to continue with the partisans and the effort was determined to be valuable it was believed that the Department of State should then entirely dissociate itself from Orebaugh, allowing the OSS to provide him with funds and to take over his activities. The Department would then, if Orebaugh was captured, Krentz added, be able to inform the Germans that it had no knowledge of Orebaugh’s activities and that any such activities were undertaken by him without any authorization from the Department, endeavoring to maintain that he should be treated as a Foreign Service Officer with whom the Department had lost contact. He suggested that the final decision in this matter should be made by the Personnel Board after the receipt of a report from OSS, probably during this week.

Someone annotated on the document “it seems to me Orebaugh by choice has divested himself of whatever protection is afforded by his FSO [Foreign Service Officer] status, what he is doing is probably an important contribution to our war effort, however, and if OSS can use ok is recommended.”  Attached was a note, dated March 23, “Orebaugh has crossed the Rubicon and his present activities are entirely outside of anything connected with the Foreign Service. If he is to get funds I think they should come from O.S.S. sources and advise against authorizing him to draw drafts. Interception of such drafts would give him away completely. The O.S.S. could no doubt get money to him in local currency.”

Berle, on March 25, wrote Gardiner Howland Shaw, Chief, Division of Foreign Service Personnel, among other positions he held, that:

I do not believe that we ought to quibble over the precise status or Orebaugh. He is one of our Foreign Service men and we ought to look out for him through hell and high water. He happens to be within the enemy lines and not yet in detention. Meanwhile he is making himself as useful as he can.

Can’t we tell OSS to give him all the help they can, and can’t we maintain that he is our man until the Germans actually get him—as I sincerely hope they don’t. And if they do, we ought to do everything we can to get him out.

Orebaugh is doing what I like to think any red blooded American in the circumstances would try to do if he saw a chance. I trust that we can back him up to the limit.



Memo, A. A. B. Jr., Assistant Secretary to A-S, Mr. Shaw, March 25, 1944, File: 123 Orebaugh, Walter, W/274, Central File, 1940-1944, General Records of the Department of State, Record Group 59

The issues surrounding Orebaugh’s situation in Italy, continued to be matters of interest and concern at the State Department during April, but by that time, as we will see in Part II of this blog, Orebaugh had begun his journey to freedom.

This paper based primarily on: Memo, Walter W. Orebaugh, American Foreign Service Officer to Secretary of State, Subject: Report on Activities and Experiences of Walter W. Orebaugh, Foreign Service Officer, June 23, 1944, File: 123 Orebaugh, Walter, W/311, Central File, 1940-1944, General Records of the Department of State, RG 59 and E & E Report, American Consul Walter W. Orebaugh, State Department, Interrogator, S. C. Borzilleri, 1st Lt. Air Corps, Headquarters, A-2 Section, Twelfth Air Force, May 13, 1944, Escape from Italy of Brigadiers Armstrong, Stirling, Vaughan, Todhunter, Combe; and Lieutenant The Lord Ranfurly, WO 208/3484, National Archives of the United Kingdom. Thanks to David Langbart to introducing me to the Department of State’s Decimal 123 files.

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